Danish designer Bitte Kai Rand talks fashion, inspiration and retailing

“My label began in a basement in Denmark where I had nine sewing machines and a love for dressing the female shape. It was 1981 and, after six years studying in fashion, I found myself specialising in bespoke knitwear pieces. Back then I used to make all sorts of garments. Jumpers, underwear for nuns, coats for dogs – you name it, I made it.

“After about three years I finally decided to make my first collection, which ended up being a capsule range of about 10 pieces. As fate would have it one customer asked for an exclusive contract with one of my garments. I must have seen it in a movie before or something because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I told him that he could have the deal depending on how many he wanted. He asked for 500 units.

“As I didn’t have the manpower or means to create that many shawls with just nine machines, this request forced me into contacting factories and asking them for help. After that I saw the potential of running my own label, which was amazing because it was never part of the plan.

“Today I have a team of 60 people working for me who are like my family. This includes my head designer, Anemone Skjoldager, who has been with me for four years. The label is my blood, sweat and tears. I am very lucky that I’ve been able to keep the same DNA that was with me from the very beginning; I never wanted to dilute that. For me the brand is about doing something unique without trying to follow the rest of the world.

“What is the signature style of Bitte Kai Rand? Well I’d say that we have a way with prints, colours and cleanness. We’re also relaxed, playful and humorous. We love special silhouettes and graphic prints. Many of our designs are also heavily inspired by Japanese minimalism. Knitwear is a still key for us but I think we’re unique in how we use it. Many of our pieces take on knitwear as a fabric – we cut, sew and make pleats and ruffles out of it; we try to ignore the conventional way of using it and turn it into our own.

“The collections we offer are quite big – there are six each year and around 400 pieces to choose from. We love to give our customers a playground of fashion choices so they can mix and match pieces to create their own unique style and expression.

“I’m very lucky to have Anemone by my side. We make the collections together but she now takes care of the communication and construction side of things while I get to concentrate on being creative. There isn’t really a typical working day for us as every month in fashion is different. We have very busy times and then some weeks when I can take a day or two off. We talk a lot. We also draw a lot. When we’re in the design phase Anemone and I will take a few days to spend time at home. I’m still afraid of a big white piece of paper so before I start I might put on some music, have some brandy and smoke cigarettes; I might sleep through the day and design at night. It’s important to be free. Then after a few days I will meet with Anemone and we will discuss what we’ve done. The collections usually end up being a mutation of both of our designs; we might take a colour from one of her designs and a sleeve from mine. Our relationship works very well.

“At the moment we’re concentrating on the UK market. We have a dedicated brand manager on board and we want to work with independent retailers. We support our stockists because we know the challenges that they’re facing at the moment. They have brought us where we are today and they have a huge place in the future of retail.

“It’s interesting how there are two big trends today: one is e-commerce and technology while the other is about personal relationships and the desire for simpler times. Indies should see this as an opportunity to offer a great service that should entertain their customers. You need to make them want to come and visit you. Online shopping is a functional thing, while visiting a real store should be a fun experience that they want to repeat.”